Jon Bon Jovi on the secret to marriage: ‘I’ve never lied about being a saint’

Jon Bon Jovi on the secret to marriage: ‘I’ve never lied about being a saint’

After life-altering vocal surgery, the 62-year-old New Jersey rocker doesn’t know if he’ll ever tour again. He talks to Kevin E G Perry about the drug experience that scared him straight, singing ‘Livin’ On a Prayer’ with Prince William and Taylor Swift, and advice for his son ahead of his forthcoming marriage to ‘Stranger Things’ star Millie Bobby Brown

Jon Bon Jovi: ‘[Am I] ready to do two and a half hours at Wembley? Probably not yet’
Jon Bon Jovi: ‘[Am I] ready to do two and a half hours at Wembley? Probably not yet’ (Tim P Whitby/Getty Images for Disney)

Sign up to Roisin O’Connor’s free weekly newsletter Now Hear This for the inside track on all things music

Jon Bon Jovi takes a sip from a bottle of water and flashes that unblemished smile. The stadium-filling rock star has somehow always managed to retain a reputation for clean living. He may have come of age amid the excess of Eighties hair metal, but the 62-year-old has resolutely steered clear of at least the narcotic element of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. As he tells me via video call from London, it was a bad experience in his youth that kept him on the straight and narrow over the next four decades.

“It was smoking something that was laced with something else, and I remember feeling out-of-body high and thinking, ‘I don’t like this. I don’t feel comfortable with this,’” he explains, leaning forward in his chair. “It was scary, and I was so young that I was glad I had that sort of ‘scared straight’ moment.” At least, when his vocal cords atrophied catastrophically in 2022, he knew it wasn’t due to any drug habit. “I couldn’t blame it on putting anything up my nose,” he laughs. “The only thing that’s ever been up my nose is my finger!”

Years of living healthily have served Bon Jovi well. His heartthrob grin is still intact, and his hair, albeit now a shock of white, has retained its famously tousled “run your hands through it” look. Dressed in a tight black T-shirt, he exudes a youthful ebullience, slipping comfortably into the role of raconteur. There is, though, a touch of pathos to his laughter. The last tour by his group Bon Jovi, one of the world’s most successful rock bands with over 120 million albums sold, came to a grisly end in April 2022 with the singer collapsed on the floor of his dressing room in Nashville, his voice shot. That summer he underwent cutting-edge surgery to repair his vocal cord, fully understanding the risk that he may never tour again.

Jon Bon Jovi unsure if he will tour again after throat surgery

It was his wife Dorothea who told him his voice wasn’t up to scratch that night. His lengthy marriage is another fact that sets Bon Jovi apart from his rockstar peers. The couple married at the Graceland Chapel in Las Vegas in 1989, and in a few weeks will celebrate their 35th anniversary. He credits their longevity to “a mutual admiration society, and being lucky enough to have grown up together”, but accepts, too, that it has required a degree of tolerance on her part. On the 1993 single “Bed of Roses” he sang regretfully of his dalliances on the road.

“These are all the wonderful clichés of rock stardom,” he says now. “It’s about never lying about having been a saint, but not being a fool enough to f*** up the home life, either.”

Two years on from his vocal surgery, Bon Jovi remains on the slow road to recovery, and still can’t say for sure whether he’ll ever be able to resume the sort of schedule that made his band one of the biggest live acts of the last half-century. A new four-part docuseries, intended to mark the group’s 40th anniversary this year, could not help but focus on the singer’s health struggles. Its title, Thank You, Goodnight, is far from promising.

“There is an aspect of, you know, seeing your life flash before your eyes,” Bon Jovi says when I ask what it was like for him to watch the Gotham Chopra-directed series. “You’re supposed to pass away when that happens, but in this case I’m able to live on. But there is an uncertainty.”

He’s been pondering mortality lately, wondering how to find joy even when things are coming to an end. A couple of weeks ago he was one of an unpredictable cavalcade of stars – Paul McCartney, Harrison Ford, Snoop Dogg, Pitbull – who took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl to pay tribute to Jimmy Buffett, the singer of beach-bum anthems such as “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, who died last September at the age of 76. Bon Jovi and Buffett, it turns out, were friends who shared more than just initials. In the months before Buffett’s death, Bon Jovi went to visit him at home in East Hampton, and received an education in not just seizing the day but embracing it.

Rockstar life: Jon Bon Jovi pictured on stage circa 1985

Rockstar life: Jon Bon Jovi pictured on stage circa 1985 (Gary Gershoff/Mediapunch/Shutterstock)

“You know, eventually all of us are going to pass,” Bon Jovi tells me. “But there’s a deep Southern tradition of celebrating a life instead of mourning it. The guilty Catholic in me is like: ‘Oh God, here it goes again!’ But Jimmy, to the very end, insisted that we sit around that table and celebrate, and that’s a lesson I’m going to carry the rest of my days.”

Encouragingly, the Buffett tribute show also represented the biggest audience he’d performed in front of since his surgery. “I went out in front of an audience – holy f***!” he grins. “It was only for one and a half songs, but amen! Those are steps in the right direction.”

John Bongiovi Jr came into the world in New Jersey on 2 March 1962, and once joked that he was “born with sunglasses and a guitar”. As a teenager, he covered his bedroom walls with posters pulled from Circus magazine: The Rolling Stones, Kiss, Led Zeppelin standing in front of their own 747 – but their success felt ludicrously unattainable. It was the scene happening on the nearby Jersey Shore that made rock stardom seem tangible to the young John, thanks to local heroes Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.

Jon Bon Jovi and wife Dorothea will soon celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary
Jon Bon Jovi and wife Dorothea will soon celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary (Getty)

Bon Jovi got his start singing in cover bands. One night, while still in high school, he was singing Springsteen’s “The Promised Land” when he turned around to see the Boss himself climbing on stage to join him. “They were always very supportive,” Bon Jovi says. “They were like big brothers and mentors and heroes, and I had their support.”

At the start of the Eighties, Bon Jovi got in touch with his second cousin Tony Bongiovi, a record producer who’d worked with heavyweight bands such as Talking Heads and the Ramones. Tony got Bon Jovi a job as a “gofer” at the Power Station studio in New York, where he ran errands and got the chance to watch legendary sessions including Queen and David Bowie making “Under Pressure” together.

He recorded his own debut single “Runaway” after hours at the studio before he’d even formed a band, and shopped it around record labels to a deafening chorus of indifference. Ever resourceful, Bon Jovi took the song directly to a DJ at a newly formed FM radio station in the city, and soon attracted enough attention for the record companies to realise their mistake. He put a band together, joking in the documentary: “It was supposed to be for three weeks, not 40 years.”

I can’t tell you that I honestly was very aware of ‘Stranger Things’, I think it was for another generation, but I do admire Millie Bobby Brown’s work ethic

They released debut album Bon Jovi (taking inspiration from Van Halen to rework Bongiovi), and rushed out follow-up 7800 Fahrenheit, whose title was meant to signify the temperature at which rock melts; the reviews sneered that it was “not as hot as the title implies”.

It was on the band’s third record, 1986’s Slippery When Wet, that the band honed their sound, marrying the riffs and bombast of hair metal with pulsing synths and irresistible, radio-friendly pop hooks. Soon they were a staple of MTV, thanks to a string of massive hit singles including “You Give Love a Bad Name”, “Wanted Dead or Alive”, and the explosive, four-minute melodrama of “Livin’ on a Prayer”. The song has since become their signature, but Bon Jovi was initially unconvinced of its “magic”.

“It was only when we developed what became the bassline that it started hopping,” he says. “The first single from that record was ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’, which was more first-listen friendly, but who knew the magic of ‘Prayer’? We didn’t. Nobody could have imagined it being what it became.”

Bon Jovi backstage at the Norwich Playhouse in 1986: Tico Torres, Richie Sambora, Alec John Such, David Bryan and Jon Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi backstage at the Norwich Playhouse in 1986: Tico Torres, Richie Sambora, Alec John Such, David Bryan and Jon Bon Jovi (Ilpo Musto/Shutterstock)

The song, about a working-class couple on the docks trying to make ends meet, has an uncanny knack for bringing people together. Video footage from 2013, of Bon Jovi performing the song at a charity event in London and being joined onstage by Prince William and Taylor Swift, still frequently goes viral. Today, Bon Jovi credits Swift with making it happen. “It was all her,” he says. “She literally grabbed him by the arm and ran up on stage, and they both knew the words and sang along. I give her kudos and I’m grateful to this day because, you know, there’s the future king of England with the biggest pop star in the world singing one of your songs. It’s a great memory.”

The mammoth success of Slippery When Wet and its 1988 follow-up New Jersey led to years of relentless touring around the globe. Wealth and fame brought with it all the decadence of the era, with Bon Jovi and lead guitarist Richie Sambora regularly lavishing gifts on one another. “I remember Richie buying me a Ferrari and me buying him a Mercedes,” Bon Jovi says with a shrug. “You know, just for the fun of doing it.”

In the Nineties, as musical tastes changed and grunge pushed hair metal off the airwaves, Bon Jovi began a second career on screen. He made a cameo appearance in the 1990 western Young Guns II, having also provided the film with its theme song, and went on to enjoy a two-decade movie career that included a starring role in 1996 drama The Leading Man and the romcom ensemble New Year’s Eve in 2011. When I ask him to pick out a favourite performance, he flashes that broad smile again and offers a diplomatic answer. “I enjoyed making movies very much,” he says. “Whether or not one was more successful than the others is not for me to say. I like them all!”

His best-loved turn on screen may well have been playing hunky photographer Seth, the love interest of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw, in an episode of Sex and the City. “I did that show in the beginning of the second season, and I was not aware of its cultural impact,” he remembers. “I know it’s like a cult thing now, but it was fun. I liked goofing around with Sarah Parker. She was cute, and very nice, so I get it!”

Jon Bon Jovi and his one-time hero, now friend, Bruce Springsteen perform in February 2024
Jon Bon Jovi and his one-time hero, now friend, Bruce Springsteen perform in February 2024 (Invision)

He’s about to welcome another actor to the family, as his 21-year-old son Jake is engaged to Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown. Bon Jovi is full of praise for her, even if he admits Brown’s star-making show passed him by. “I can’t tell you that I honestly was very aware of it, I think it was for another generation, but I do admire her work ethic,” he says. “Millie is a movie star. We just went to the premiere of Damsel with her, and Jake’s got his first movie out right now. I’m happy for him. They are two young people that are pursuing a dream together, so we’re supportive of it, because our hope for them – and Millie’s parents’ hope for them, because Bob and Kelly Brown, too, met when they were very young – is that the kids will grow together. Anything after that is out of all four of us as parents’ control, but they’re good kids. They’ll figure it out.”

Brown is reportedly giving her future father-in-law the night off from singing duties on her wedding day, but now that his voice is on the mend, I suspect he’ll take some stopping from getting up on stage. “You know, I doubt her word on that very much!” Bon Jovi says, but he’s keeping tight-lipped on any set list. “We’ll see! It depends how much wine I have before we get to the moment where she sticks the mic in my face!”

In the past few decades, Bon Jovi – alongside his band – has acquired a measure of maturity. While he can still be relied on to produce singalong stadium anthems, the singer has shifted his gaze to politics and social issues. On “American Reckoning”, from the last album 2020, he weighed in on that year’s Black Lives Matter protests. A long-time Democrat, he performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and at Joe Biden’s in 2021. Despite the naysayers, he believes the current president has impressed during his time in office. “Everybody is caught up in the media frenzy of it all, but I do think, if you look on paper, the guy’s done a pretty darn good job,” he says. “We’re living in a very difficult and trying time, and I can only hold out hope in the electorate that they’ll decide on something they think makes sense.”

Jon Bon Jovi and Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘Sex and the City’
Jon Bon Jovi and Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘Sex and the City’ (HBO)

He’s certainly no fan of Biden’s likely adversary in this year’s upcoming presidential election. He and Donald Trump have a strange history. Back in 2014, Bon Jovi joined up with a group of Canadian investors to try and buy the NFL team the Buffalo Bills, outbidding Trump in the process. In the immediate aftermath, anti-Bon Jovi graffiti started appearing around Buffalo, and a rumour circulated that Bon Jovi planned to move the team out of the city. The Bills were ultimately bought by a third bidder, and years later it emerged that the anti-Bon Jovi campaign had been spearheaded by political strategist Michael Caputo, then employed by Trump.

“What he did to take us out of the equation was pretty evil, but the truth is that he was never in the equation,” says Bon Jovi now. “He never properly filled out any of the paperwork, nor did he have the money or any of the other stuff. He just figured, if he could take us out, then he could get it at a bargain price, which is pretty evil genius.”

At the end of last year, with his voice improving, Bon Jovi went back into the studio to record a new album, Forever. Due out in June, it’s a celebratory record that captures the singer taking stock of his legacy (“Legendary”), looking back at how far he’s come (“My First Guitar”) and singing to his 30-year-old daughter Stephanie about her forthcoming wedding (“Kiss the Bride”). “I think it’s the best record we’ve made in 20 years,” says Bon Jovi. “Singing it was not difficult, but it was different. I had to adjust to it, but that’s part of the process. Even that was six or seven months ago, and I think I would certainly do a better job today than I did then.”

Jon Bon Jovi performs to a throng of fans in Covent Garden, London in 1994
Jon Bon Jovi performs to a throng of fans in Covent Garden, London in 1994 (Shutterstock)

Whether his voice will ever be strong enough to return to the rigours of a full-on Bon Jovi tour remains very much in the balance. That said, he sounds sanguine about the prospect. “It’s day-to-day, to be honest with ya,” he drawls. “You saw me perform last week [at the Hollywood Bowl], so it’s all steps in the right direction. But to be ready to do two and a half hours at Wembley? Probably not yet.”

Bon Jovi doesn’t seem quite ready for his curtain call. If that night in Nashville two years ago turns out to be his band’s last stand, he’ll embrace that ending joyfully, just like Jimmy Buffett taught him – but you get the sense that Bon Jovi remains a musician with one eye on the road. “I’m not saying no,” he says. “But I’m not letting my manager book it yet, either.”

Related Posts

Our Privacy policy - © 2024 News